The music — and overall flavor of the sound — on this record is light years away from where The Kinks were when they last recorded in 1994. Well, maybe not “light years,” but it is evident that Ray has clearly moved on and is doing different things these days and — ultimately — one has to respect him for sticking to his artistic guns. I mean… this ain’t no dress rehearsal we’re living through, kids. Time’s a tick-tick-tickin’ so I suspect it was more important for Ray to just move his art forward than to try and resurrect the elusive glories of his old band (great as they were in their heyday). Its kinda like how Robert Plant has not agreed to reform Led Zeppelin in any sort of full time manner. Likewise, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and David Gilmour have made it clear to the universe that they do not want to get back together.
The money isn’t the issue — its just that these folks have moved on in life and are doing their thing. Artistic vision and all that… I get it.
That said, Ray’s Americana is a fine fine artistic vision, a reflection of sorts on the remarkable journey the brothers Davies have made since the early 1960s (itself a topic he has periodically chronicled over the years in The Kinks, actually including a like-named book he issued in 2013, which I need to read soon). This is never more notable that on the song “Rock ‘n’ Roll Cowboy” which is sort of a flip-side view to some songs that The Kinks recorded in the 70s. One of them from 1978 called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy” hinted that Ray was thinking about a solo career even then but wasn’t quite ready:
“Hello me, hello you, you say you want out
Want to start anew, throw in your hand
Break up the band, start a new life, be a new man
But for all we know, we might still have a way to go”
Fast forward 40 years to “Rock ‘n’ roll Cowboys,” where Ray looks back and acknowledges that the solo career is where he’s at and that there is indeed (to borrow a phrase from another of his songs) “no more looking back.”
“Rock n’ roll cowboys on the old wagon train
You had your time but it won’t come again
You rode the prairie and ya’ always stood proud
So tall in the saddle and your head was not bowed”
It is in that moment that I accepted the real reality that we’re not going to get a Kinks reunion anytime this year or any time soon, if ever. Ray is in a different place right now creatively. And that is OK… We just need to embrace it for what it is, and be thankful that we’re still getting great recordings, interesting music and always-poignant perspective from Ray’s unique spot in the universe.
So how is Americana as an overall listen? Its easily the most enjoyable music I’ve heard from Ray since Workingman’s Cafe (which was really good too, by the way) and probably since his Kinks days. There are no doubt some Kinks-ian moments which hard core fans will geek out on. Consider the references to “How Are You?” from 1986’s Think Visual in “The Deal” (which has a killer Davies’ chorus there!). That song also reminds me at times of “Art Lover” from 1981’s Give The People What They Want. Consider the “Starstruck”-like chord progressions in “Poetry” — the former from 1968’s now-classic album The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. And then there is that little acoustic snippet of “You Really Got Me” leading into “The Man Upstairs.”
Musically, the great highway Mr. Davies is driving on — backed by The Jayhawks — is in many ways in line with The Kinks’ brilliant 1971 first foray into Americana, Muswell Hillbillies. In fact, in someways this could be a bit of a sequel (of a sort) to that album, at least from a musical aesthetic. Its all there in the songs — acoustic guitars, pedal steel and slide sounds — wrapped up in classic Country-Western, Folk and Rock motifs, etc.
Still, as American-ized as Mr. Davies may have become after years of living in this country, there is still a distinct British flavor to his musical palate which makes listening to his music a unique experience.
Sonics wise, I was really pleased playing the actual LP for the first time. When I picked up Americana on Record Store Day, I immediately downloaded the free MP3s to take on a little road trip I’d had planned. I listened to the whole album a couple of times in the car, driving up and down part of the California coastline. Americana is great driving music and it sounds good in the car…
But when I got home and put on the vinyl discs for the first time, I was super happy to hear the warm difference. Americana has a lovely acoustic richness. The standard weight LP pressing is dark black, dead quiet and well centered. No complaints from me on that front.
Ultimately its about the music within and this one is already growing on me a whole bunch. A new Ray Davies album is a welcome treat and Americana is a splendid recording.
And as much as we may long for a Kinks reunion, that dream probably isn’t anywhere near reality.
So, solo albums from each of the brothers Davies are the next best thing.
And… Who knows? Maybe Dave will show up to one of Ray’s shows (or vice versa!)